News in Brief: Health Insurance Executives Cash in While Planning Rate Hikes, and More

According to a report from Health Care for America Now and as reported in The Los Angeles Times, the executives of the top five for-profit health insurance companies raked in nearly $200 million and, at the same time, planned major rate hikes. The executives at Cigna Corp., Humana Inc., UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint Inc. each received raises in 2009. Only one executive saw his pay check decrease – by nearly $6 million. Many of these companies were also rewarded financially, with profits soaring over 20 percent in just two quarters.

At the same time, many of these providers have planned major rate hikes. The insurance industry claims they’re necessary because of rising medical costs. But many still wonder why, despite these major executive pay outs, that some customers have reported rate hikes of nearly 40 percent.

Says Ethan Rome of Health Care for America Now, “Most families are struggling to hang on. Employers are struggling to stay in business. And these guys were giving themselves huge raises.”

Greenland Will Effectively Disappear if Climate Change Not Curbed

Greenland’s icy masses will effectively melt if the temperatures rise much more, a panel of climate experts told Congress Tuesday, reports The Guardian UK. The Congressional briefing also noted that the last six months had set temperature records.

A change in a couple of degrees could have “severe consequences for the world,” Richard Alley, a geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University said. “What is going on in the Arctic now is the biggest and fastest thing that nature has ever done.” He cites Greenland’s ice sheets’ recent shedding of its largest chunk of ice in nearly a half century.

Election Night Fares Well for Democrats, GLBT Candidates, but Gives Little Hope to National Republicans

Elections in three states on Tuesday night yielded positive results for incumbent Democrats facing challengers, but left many Republican operatives scratching their heads, Politico reports. Regardless of party or state, however, there was at least one unified message during the elections: “the less familiarity with politics the better,” the AP reports.

In Colorado, Michael Bennet, the first-term, unelected incumbent backed by Obama, beat former State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who was backed by Bill Clinton. On the GOP side, Ken Buck, a Tea Party favorite, beat former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. Called a “victory for Obama” and the Democrats, Bennet already holds a small lead over Buck in the general election.

In Connecticut, World Wrestling Entertainment founder and self-financed candidate Linda McMahon handily won the GOP nomination for Senate, while gaffe-prone, five-term Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal won his party’s nomination. The two are running for Chris Dodd’s seat, who is retiring.

According to the web site Gay Politics, it was also a big night for out GLBT candidates across the board. In particular, gay Democratic nominee for Connecticut State comptroller Kevin Lembo won his party’s nomination. Should the popular candidate win in the fall, he would be one of only “a handful of openly LGBT candidates to win statewide office in the US.”

US-Backed Fighters in Iraq Defect to al-Qaeda

The Guardian UK reports that many former Sunni allies of al-Qaeda are taking monetary payments and rejoining the terrorist group’s ranks. Revealing the vulnerabilities of the US exit strategy in Iraq, a militia leader told the UK newspaper, “Al-Qaeda has made a big comeback here … I know where my [neighbors’] allegiances lie now.”

Taking advantage of political instability in Iraq, al-Qaeda is gaining support from groups that are strapped for cash. By promising more money than the US, groups like the once US-backed Sons of Iraq, also known as the Awakening Council, are now seeing members vacate the group. Many leave because of neglect from both the US and Iraqi governments, which they were handed over to in 2008.

While not all members have left, many have not received payments for over three months and are now looking for other options – including joining al-Qaeda again. Because of such unstable circumstances, one leader said, “it is an easy market for al-Qaeda now. The Iraqi government has disappointed them and it is an easy choice to rejoin the terrorists.”

Omar Khadr Trial Has Wide-Reaching Implications

Jury selection has begun for the military trial at Guantánamo Bay for Omar Khadr, Democracy Now! reports, in a case expected to have wide-reaching implications. Of the many concerns of human rights’ activists is the judge’s recent ruling that confessions while undergoing torture can be used as evidence against him. While a blow to legal arguments against torture, one witness says it actually “will force the defense to re-air its account of Khadr’s torture.” A UN envoy also expressed worry that Khadr’s case, the first since WWII “to prosecute someone for acts allegedly committed as a juvenile,” will have major implications for child soldiers.

Khadr, who was captured by US forces at fifteen, has spent a third of his life in detention at Guantánamo Bay.